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A Conversation with Svetlana Cemin, the Award Winning Director of 'Saint Clair Cemin, Psyche'

Please tell us about yourself. How did you get involved in filmmaking?

Before making my first experimental films and documentaries, I worked as an actor, theatre producer, and wrote one act plays. After taking a long maternity leave, I had a vision; to start up a film and theatre company in Brooklyn with the idea of documenting the working process of selected artists.

I always had a deep interaction with the art world, and I thought that it would be interesting to dig deeper into the process of creativity, to open the intimate space of the artist and show it in a creative way. This is how 610FILM was formed. Combining different art forms, I started to create my visual stories. As I started to sketch up my first projects, I opened the doors for collaboration with various artists, musicians, independent producers. During a period of five years, I produced and directed seven films. From the very beginning our films were recognized at independent film festivals around the world. I still remember the day when our first project, Laura Kaplan, Love Is All That Matters got a special award in Stockholm 2017, the excitement and the feeling that we were on the right track had been established. Recently we produced two internationally awarded feature length documentaries, Monk Arsenije and Saint Clair Cemin, Psyche.

Did you attend film school or study film at university?

I was first a law student and then I studied dramatic arts, but I have never studied film at university. The moment I started with 610FILM I took courses in film production and attended a lot of screenwriting and production courses and workshops. Basically, I learned the craft as I went along with my projects, and some of my greatest teachers were my editors.

What keeps you motivated despite the fact that filmmaking is a laborious job?

I have a very strict work discipline and I try to stay focused on my projects every single day, even during the holidays. My motivation glues me to my desk; I keep in mind the importance of the creative process. It is very easy to get distracted in this job because of its changing dynamics. When I feel overwhelmed or discouraged, I go back for longs walks in nature, trying to recuperate my spirits and thoughts. There is no greater joy for me than having accomplished projects that resonate with the public, that are artistically charged and critically acclaimed.

Do you think the role of a producer is vital?

It certainly is! A good producer is an essential force behind the project, but once again, filmmaking is about team playing and the transparent collaboration between the producers and the director and the rest of the crew is the key for the successful delivering of the project.

How do you think the industry is changing?

Obviously with the recent pandemic restrictions the industry has taken a very different shape. We will rely in the future even more on virtual collaboration, social media interactions, the importance of the internet, the subscriptions on VOD, TV on demand rather than going to the actual cinemas. Even though I’m not always so thrilled with all that is happening in terms of distribution in the film industry I’m firmly trying to navigate in this ocean of unpredictability and take a deep breath for the challenge. While my films were receiving all sorts of recognition during the pandemic I had to work only virtually, and that was a difficult task, still we were able to stay on the right track and even get distributors here in the USA, Brazil, Southern Europe and China. I am thrilled about that, and it feels like a miracle!

Who are your favorite filmmakers?

There are many filmmakers whose work I admire, but I have always been drawn to the great storytellers whose work is explicitly poetic and mysteriously inspiring, but if you insist, I will mention a few from the top of my list, Reiner Werner Fassbinder, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vittorio De Sica, Agnes Varda, and David Fincher.

How are children influenced by movies?

As a child I fell in love with the movies, I grew up on watching films on Sunday’s afternoon with my father. He was a big fan of cinema, and I can only assume that tons of children are experiencing similar effects, if they are lucky enough to watch interesting films. When the story is well defined the imagination of any child can flourish in a positive way. There are many fantastic films and animations made for the young people. At the same time, it is of the utmost importance for parents to choose the right movies for their children.

The script is the most important to make a film. Do you think all filmmakers focus on that?

I assume that many filmmakers rely on the script when they are developing their projects, but I also like to add the improvisational element to it. The films that I generated went beyond the script. I firmly believe that documentary filmmaking allows you to take such an approach as long as the main core of the plot is never at stake. So in the experimental documentaries I found enough space for the stretch but I’m not sure if this type of work would fit into feature films.

What inspires you to work?

I only feel fully alive when I work on a fulfilling theatre or film project, so the thrill of creating something new, taking risks, telling the story, is really the essential force behind everything that I care for. I feel inspired by many things that I come in touch with, people, nature, the air we breathe even my dreams are; if I don’t act on them, I feel that I’m avoiding to detect the truest meaning of my expression.

Who’ve been your influences within the industry?

Perhaps the first and most significant influence for me was my acting teacher, Susan Batson. I was new in NYC, very young and carried a very big dream. She detected my passion and provoked me to go beyond my limits. I loved going to her classes and soon was spending hours, days and months at the Actors studio, but I wondered about the method, the Stanislavsky method that she was practicing. It seemed so slow paced, so incredibly emotionally charged. However, based on my instinct I decided to follow it, and once the doubt was gone, I felt rejuvenated. Susan has given me the push to go ahead, and her teachings have left a huge impact for the rest of my life.

If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal, what would your dream production project be?

Ah, what a lovely question! Of course, I would love to extend my production company and dive into numerous adventures including more documentaries, this time on climate change, and feature film projects. I would also love to shoot a tv series based on two books that I have developed.

What are you most proud of in your professional experience?

I’m very proud of the fact that my daughter Sara has taken her first steps in developing a career as a theatre director. Giving her and some other young women an inspiration and a force to believe in their dreams has given me so far, the greatest satisfaction.

Do you think directing a film is the toughest job while making a movie?

Directing is one of the toughest jobs, but I don’t mind it. To put all the elements in order, one must overextend one’s human abilities in this creative field. I’m a result-oriented person so I accept the struggle, hard work, and enormous number of sleepless nights when I know that that the message will get across once the editing part is over. I find that out of all the jobs and careers I’ve had during my lifetime directing is my truest call, that’s why I go to work with enthusiasm, I developed the skills that are making me more focused then ever and I consider that as a great achievement.

What advice would you like to give to aspiring filmmakers?

If there is one advice to share with the young adolescent is to read an enormous amount of great literature, specifically the classics. The written word is by far a sure path to great imagination. In art there is no comparison in being authentic and real to oneself, it is the most valuable part of development. Therefore, read, be inspired and do your best.

What are the films you admire — that you have found to be profound? What films have moved you in an entertaining way?

I still love Persona, Rashomon, Amarcord, The Birds, The Red Desert, just to name a few. I also love watching comedies such as the ones by Billy Wilder.

What projects are you working on next?

I’m preparing my first feature film. It is a long due project. But I hope to go into production next year. This story is based on real life events, it is the story of love and loss.

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